A monkeypox outbreak has been confirmed in the town of Mbonge, health authorities in Cameroon say, but armed separatists are preventing workers from investigating suspected cases.
Cameroon government officials say health workers have been deployed to the districts of Kumba and Mbonge to communicate to hundreds of civilians with suspected monkeypox infections to immediately isolate and avoid contact with other people and animals, including pets.
Kumba and Mbonge are districts located in Cameroon's English-speaking southwest region near the border with Nigeria.
Emmanuel Lenya Nefenda, the highest ranking Cameroon public health official in Kumba, said civilians are being educated after a suspected monkeypox infection was confirmed in Kumba. He said the case was reported after the confirmation by Cameroon public health officials of a monkeypox outbreak in Bole Bakundu, a village in Mbonge.
In order to prevent the spread of the highly contagious monkeypox, Nefenda said people should avoid contact with wild animals, avoid eating wild animals, and wear clean clothes, as opposed to "bush clothes" that may have had contact with rats or other animals.
Nefenda spoke from Kumba via the messaging app WhatsApp.
The government says one case of monkeypox was confirmed in Kumba, and the patient is receiving treatment in a hospital isolation ward. Several dozen specimens have been collected from suspected patients and sent to specialized laboratories in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, for laboratory examinations.
Health officials are warning civilians to take suspected patients to hospitals, and not to herbalists or African traditional healers in villages. But villagers say ongoing battles between separatists and government troops make it impossible for suspected patients to be transported to hospitals, which are far from towns.
Separatists on social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, say any health worker sent by Cameroon's central government in Yaounde should obtain an authorization from fighters.
But the government says only Cameroon state officials can assure the safety of health workers assisting people suspected of monkeypox infections.
Eko Eko Filbert, the highest government official in charge of public health in Cameroon's English-speaking Southwest region where Kumba and Mbonge are located, said armed groups should allow medical staff members to render humanitarian services.
Monkeypox is contagious, he said, but can be contained with the help of health workers.
Eko said no health official deployed to assist civilians suspected of monkeypox infection has been attacked, but that frightened health workers are scared of going out to search for patients and suspected patients.
The government says it will protect both its citizens and health workers.
The U.N. says Cameroon is a monkeypox endemic country but displacement away from established surveillance systems due to armed conflicts increase the risk of undetected transmission.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said 21 countries in the past week reported an increase in monkeypox cases, mostly in the Americas, which accounted for almost 90% of all cases reported last week.
The WHO says cases in the global monkeypox outbreak have topped 70,000 and warned that a decline in new cases does not mean people should drop their guard, as the slowdown in new cases worldwide could be the most dangerous time in the outbreak.
The U.N. says the disease causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions.